What Can Families Do at Home to Support Assistive Technology Skills?

Cecilia Robinson Listen to Cecilia Robinson's advice on the three things parents most need to know about assistive technology skills.


I'm Cecilia Robinson, and I work at Region 4 Education Service Center in Houston, Texas. My job is to provide professional development in assistive technology and visual impairments for our teachers and also our assistive technology specialists in the district.

How can parents and other family members support the child's acquisition of using assistive technology proficiently? And what would you like to ask families to do at home?

For the family to help acquire technology for their child with visual impairments, my strongest feeling—my strongest comment actually—is, again, working with your child's VI teacher and the school's team to help get the technology for your child. Be careful about asking questions all the way, and do not be shy to speak up when there is something that you don't understand. Find out the type of technology that your child may be considered (for) and using, and also how your child is going to learn to use the technology in school.

And the question, also, to ask is how this technology going to help my child be a better student in school. Better means increase the participation of activities and also to achieve in school.

And then, also, who is going to help my child to use the technology when the VI teacher is not there? Most of the VI teachers are going to be traveling from campus to campus, so you want to make sure that your child has a level of self-help skills in terms of problem-solving when the technology does not work. The other thing to ask is, at home what can you do to help the child use the assistive technology that will help him do the work at home, say, for example, homework, and then be able to take it back to school.

So the communication piece is really critical. Not only do you need to be a big player in helping your child get the technology, you also need to learn about the technology and ask about how you can help to support the technology used at home. And then, if you don't understand something, be—be really up front about asking for examples so that you will get a better understanding on how your child may be using the technology.

Again, remember that at home your child needs to be reading and writing as well. Just because he or she has a visual impairment does not mean that they can be excused from any of the homework. And if that's the case, you need to make sure to communicate with the VI teacher to find out what's going on too. Because, we have seen over the years, that the better users of technologies are those students who can use the technology at home, and the parents help the teachers to understand how the child is using the technology at home.

Again, it goes back to building a good foundation of skills, and along with that is organization, too, because when you are using assistive technology, everything becomes a little bit more abstract for your child, and it becomes what we call "virtual." So does your student have organizational skills that he is currently showing at home—like, for example, organizing his closet or organizing his dresser or organizing his bed area so he knows where things are? If he or she does not have a lot of good organization skills, that's something that you can work (on) at home. The reason is that if a child is not good with organizing with objects, things that they can touch and feel, then they are not going to be very good organizers when it moves virtually to a computer environment.

The last thing is, at home, too, what you want to do is that a lot of times the technology may not be sent home for your child to use. So this is the time that you will use the child's fallback system. Like, for example, if your child is totally blind, does he have a Perkins brailler to use at home so he can do his homework? And if your child has low vision, does your child have a magnifier that he can use at home so he can read his textbooks at home? Or what is it that he can do at home that will help him switch back and forth? Using technology is also being able to switch back to the fallback system. For example, in the Houston area, we have a lot of rainstorms, so we never know when (lightning) is going to fry a piece of electronic technology. So we always educate our teachers to remember to get the child to pull out the fallback system and use it at home.

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